Jack's Insights April 2018

By Jack Whittier, Director

UNL Panhandle Extension District and Panhandle Research and Extension Center

Dr. Jack Whittier

Each month when I write this article, I consider three principles:

1) What insight can I write about that will uplift and inform readers,

2) In what way can I convey the value of the University of Nebraska to the folks in Western Nebraska, and

3) Are there any lessons I can reflect on from recent and past events in my role as Panhandle Research and Extension Center (PHREC) Director, or experiences in my own life that may be of interest in achieving the first two points? 

Let’s see how well I accomplish these principles this month.

I’ll start with a story. While on faculty at Colorado State University, we hosted the Range Beef Cow Symposium in Fort Collins in 2007. One of our speakers was Paul Redd of Redd Ranches in Colorado, and a noted Red Angus breeder. Paul spoke about their ranch’s decision to change calving date to later in the year and what a positive difference it made in their operation.  He said that calving later had taken much of the stress out of his ranching business. He jokingly said that the only down side of this change was that his cowboys and horses were getting too fat because calving time had become so easy.  

During his talk, Paul told about being out on the range during calving with one of his younger grandsons.  As his grandson reflected on being with his grandpa, being outside with cattle in a beautiful part of the ranch, seeing the newborn calves, and considering the fact that he had a wonderful family, his grandson said, “Grandpa, I’m a lucky, lucky boy.”

I often reflect on that statement and think I’m a “lucky, lucky boy” myself.  I have a great job in a wonderful part of the world.  I get to work with a good group of people at a great university.  I’m blessed with a wonderful family like the one Paul’s grandson noted.  I have good health.  I have, and have had, many amazing opportunities during my career in agriculture. 

One of these opportunities was to be part of the initial development phase of the University of Nebraska Gudmundsen Sandhills Laboratory (GSL) while I was a graduate student in the early 1980s as GSL was being established.  Recently, a group of us at UNL was reflecting on GSL’s value as we wrote an abstract to submit to a professional meeting this summer – the national meeting of the American Society of Animal Science.  I’m going to share the abstract with you just as it was submitted. I don’t think it’s too “ivory towerish” - you decide.  I do think it reflects well on the value the University of Nebraska – in this case GSL – has on the beef and range industries.  Note point 4 in the abstract about calving dates.  I’m pretty sure the GSL data was a primary factor in Paul Redd’s decision to change their calving dates mentioned above.

“Impacts of 40 Years of Research and Extension at University of Nebraska Gudmundsen Sandhills Laboratory on Beef Cattle and Range Management Systems

J. C. Whittier*, K. W. Bruns, R. N. Funston, J. D. Volesky, T. K. Klopfenstein and D. C. Adams.

Our objective is to describe impact on beef and range management systems resulting from visionary development of a working research ranch in the Nebraska Sandhills by the University of Nebraska (UNL).  Gudmundsen Sandhills Laboratory (GSL) is a 12,800-acre research ranch in the Nebraska Sandhills. In 1978, Elmer "Pete" and Abbie Gudmundsen gifted the former Rafter C Ranch to the University of Nebraska Foundation.  To the credit of UNL Administration, GSL development for range livestock research was delegated to a team chaired by Dr. Don Clanton.  This team configured the ranch to investigate production and management questions pertinent to the region.  Major evolution of impacts on beef and range systems from GSL are: 1) Protein, rather than high levels of starch, is the preferred winter supplement for Sandhills forages; 2) Production systems using self-harvesting by grazing are typically most economical in Sandhills cow-calf systems; 3) Development and implementation of a systems approach to research while training students in systems thinking;  4) June versus March calving for the Nebraska Sandhills beef systems best matches rangeland quality and quantity; 5) Validation of the National Research Council Beef Cattle Nutritional Requirements model in Sandhills systems; 6) Distillers grains provide a beneficial nutrient profile for gestating cows and yearlings when grazing cool-season meadow and upland range and will extend range capacity; 7) Time and type of supplementation affect prenatal fetal programming to impact changes in BCS, weight, carcass traits and cow productivity through epigenetic mechanisms; 8) Nebraska Ranch Practicum at GSL provides valuable, science-based, systems education to clientele in multiple states; 9) Heifer development systems are a key component of sustainable beef systems in the Nebraska Sandhills; 10) Proper sub-irrigated meadow management offers a key component to profitable forage management systems. We conclude that GSL provides an important resource for solving ranching problems in beef systems.”

What a privilege it is for me to work at the University of Nebraska, being able to see the beginning of a project like GSL, and its continuing benefit as a working, research ranch.  I began this Insights article with a story about a young boy who realized he was a “lucky, lucky boy”.  I encourage each of us to reflect on that perspective on this Easter Sunday.  I know I will.